HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug Clinic Limits Stand
Pubdate: Sun, 24 Feb 2008
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2008 The Baltimore Sun Company
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Baltimore County to Maintain Zoning Restrictions on Methadone Facilities

With a less-than-definitive opinion from a federal appeals court, 
Baltimore County officials say they have no intention of scrapping 
their restrictions on the location of methadone clinics.

As a result, at least one proposed methadone clinic in Baltimore 
County could find it harder to open.

A panel of federal judges, sitting one level below the U.S. Supreme 
Court, issued an opinion this month, finding that a Pikesville 
methadone clinic should be allowed to stay open. But the appellate 
court didn't directly answer whether the county law violates the 
Americans with Disabilities Act - which was the chief complaint made 
by a Pikesville methadone clinic and the American Civil Liberties 
Union of Maryland.

Some health and legal experts say that county's zoning regulation on 
methadone clinics is ripe for another lawsuit.

"The way Baltimore County has avoided the issue in this case would 
not be likely to happen again," said Ellen M. Weber, an assistant 
professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and a lawyer 
involved in another lawsuit against the county over its methadone 
clinic restrictions. That case settled out of court.

The opinion handed down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 
vacates an injunction issued by a federal District Court judge that 
had prohibited the county from enforcing its law on the location of 
clinics. But the appellate court decision also allows the clinic, A 
Helping Hand, to request a new trial on the ADA questions.

The clinic owner and the ACLU of Maryland said they have not decided 
whether to seek a new trial.

"Part of our decision hinges on what the new injunction says," said 
Deborah A. Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland. "We have to 
weigh the costs and the benefits of a new trial."

County officials say they don't plan to revise the regulations on 
methadone clinics.

"The fact is that this law is working," said Councilman Kevin 
Kamenetz, who crafted the legislation in response to proposals in 
2002 by two private methadone clinics to open within a half-mile of 
each other in Pikesville.

"There hasn't been a rash of methadone clinics opening in 
neighborhoods. But methadone clinics can and have opened in 
appropriate areas. That's what a county zoning law is for."

The Baltimore County Council passed a zoning law in 2002 requiring 
additional approval for methadone clinics and other state-licensed 
medical facilities that want to open less than 750 feet from homes in 
areas zoned for business and office uses. The law allows the clinics 
to operate in areas designated for manufacturing without special approvals.

Mark Melenders, who wants to open a methadone clinic on Belair Road 
near White Marsh Boulevard, says he will have to seek zoning 
variances and waivers.

"We're trying to get a variance, but who knows?" said Melenders, who 
has applied with the state to open 4 Walls Health Services.

Methadone, a synthetic narcotic, is used to treat addictions to 
heroin and some painkillers. It is administered daily by mouth. But 
the private clinics dispensing methadone in residential areas are 
often opposed by community groups, who fear that crime will accompany 
the business and that traffic will disrupt neighborhoods.

"If this was really about treatment, they'd be in a hospital or other 
medical setting," Kamenetz said.

Because the county law applies to all state-licensed medical 
facilities, not just methadone clinics, county attorneys say that the 
regulations are not discriminatory. They say the zoning restrictions 
are no different from preventing a gas station or other kind of 
business from opening in the middle of a neighborhood.

Lawyers for A Helping Hand, and the ACLU of Maryland, which joined in 
the clinic's lawsuit against the county, say drug treatment programs 
are different from other types of business and have protections under the ADA.

"It's different than not wanting a frat house ... in a neighborhood - 
that argument doesn't cut it," Weber said.

A Helping Hand has remained open during the litigation, and the 
appellate court found that because it had its permits to open before 
the county's law was passed, the clinic should be allowed to continue 
doing business.

Since 2002, two methadone clinics have opened in Baltimore County.

One, BD Health Care Services, is in a former house at 3955 Old North 
Point Road in Dundalk in an area zoned for manufacturing, although it 
is not far from homes.

Another, Whitestone Treatment Center, opened last month in a business 
park in Woodlawn.

Two other methadone clinics have applied with the state's Department 
of Health and Mental Hygiene: One is proposed for Wise Avenue in 
Dundalk, in an area designated for manufacturing and has permits from 
the county to open.

But Melenders' 4 Walls Treatment Center is on land zoned "business 
roadside," meaning operating a methadone clinic is allowed only by 
"special exception" or approval from county zoning officials, said 
Donald T. Rascoe, deputy director for county permits and development 

The proposed clinic is about 120 feet from the nearest house, Rascoe said.

Melenders said he doesn't think the clinic will have a negative 
effect on neighbors.

"It's not a gas-and-go," Melenders said. "And what about how much 
drugs affect the neighborhoods?" 
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